Tara Miele’s ‘Wander Darkly’ fascinates and frustrates

‘76 Days’ looks at COVID-19 crisis in Wuhan, China

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After a terrible accident, an L.A. couple journey through time, to look back at their relationship and understand why it’s been dying, in “Wander Darkly,” a drama (streaming on demand starting Friday) that contains fascinating moments but doesn’t jell into a riveting whole.

Writer-director Tara Miele (“Starving in Suburbia”) explores love, loss and trauma in this metaphysical romance, psychodrama and memory trip suggestive of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The movie also embraces life’s sterling intimate experiences.

Angelenos Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) share a baby girl and mortgage payments, but their jealousy-hampered relationship appears unlikely to last.

Driving home from a party, Matteo accuses Adrienne of romantic involvement with her colleague Liam (Tory Kittles), while Adrienne makes similar remarks about Matteo and his pal Shea (Aimee Carrero). As they argue, the car crashes.

Following a hospital scene in which she is confused and bloodied, Adrienne, believing herself to be dead, wanders through landscapes and time. She witnesses her funeral and skips ahead 15 years to glimpse her daughter as a teenager. The girl is living with Adrienne’s mother (Beth Grant) because Matteo, whose degree of commitment Adrienne has long questioned, isn’t around.

Is Adrienne truly dead? Or is she merely deluded, devastated by the trauma of the accident? While Miele makes both options seem possible, Matteo believes the latter is true, and in a metaphysical scenario, he guides Adrienne through their relationship’s history, in hopes that witnessing their past will inspire her to heal.

The adventure features the high points of their time together, such as a thrillingly romantic motorboat ride in Mexico, as well as unpleasant incidents caused by jealousy and other negative elements.

Miele has lots on her mind and on her tonal palette, and she’s filled the movie with ideas and creative energy. She’s made bold choices, such as presenting much of the drama from the perspective of the troubled Adrienne.

Miele’s consideration of memory also impresses. Cleverly conflating past and present, Miele accompanies scenes of the pair’s relationship history with current comments issued by the couple. These passages vividly illustrate how personal desires and fears can wildly affect how we remember things.

Miller helps this emotionally complicated material to succeed. She is willing to take Adrienne to dangerous and unlikable places and is believable as a possible ghost, a shattered trauma survivor, and a romantic heroine.

But as the movie progresses from a horror tale, complete with jump scares, to a heightened-reality cerebral think piece to the drama’s conventional but satisfying ending, its various pieces don’t compatibly come together.

One problem is that the film contains so many thoughts and tones that the overall picture feels muddy.

Additionally, Miller’s Adrienne and the charismatic Luna’s Matteo, while sharing an appealing rapport, don’t convey the deep love and devotion that are essential to viewers’ ability to feel invested in the fate of their relationship.

Such frustrations notwithstanding,though, Miele is a filmmaker with plenty to offer.

REVIEW

Wander Darkly

★★½

Starring:Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant, Aimee Carrero

Written and directed by: Tara Miele

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Nurses collapse from exhaustion during the peak days of COVID-19 in Wuhan, in the vivid “76 Days.” (Courtesy MTV Documentary Films)

Nurses collapse from exhaustion during the peak days of COVID-19 in Wuhan, in the vivid “76 Days.” (Courtesy MTV Documentary Films)

Filmed in Wuhan, China, “76 Days” is a stirringly crafted eye-of-the storm document of the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis and the efforts of medical workers to fight it. It opens Friday in virtual cinemas, including The Roxie.

Directed by New York-based Hao Wu, China-based Weixi Chen, and a Chinese colleague who has requested anonymity, the direct-cinema-style documentary, filmed without the Chinese government’s permission, captures the scenes at four hospitals in Wuhan (where COVID-19 cases were first reported) during Wuhan’s 76-day COVID-19 lockdown, which began Jan. 23, 2020. We witness nurses and doctors working to keep patients alive amid pandemonium and uncertainty.

Suggesting a contagion horror tapestry directed by Frederick Wiseman, the film opens with a segment in which a hazmat-suited medical worker cries out for her father, a patient being wheeled to the morgue. “Control yourself,” a colleague tells her.

Elsewhere, panicking sick people try to push open a door to enter a medical ward; a nurse oversees a collection of cellphones and other personal items that belonged to now-deceased patients; a worker places a cheerfully decorated inflated surgical glove next to a sick patient.

Running narratives include an elderly man with dementia who wanders the halls and a couple waiting anxiously to take their newborn daughter home.

Limited to the interiors of four hospitals in one city, and lacking details about the number of deaths occurring and other aspects of the COVID toll, “76 Days” is narrow in scope.

But this deftly edited film provides a harrowing close-up view of the scene in Wuhan, resonantly conveying the urgency in the air.

It also casts a deserved spotlight on Wuhan’s frontline medical workers, and, by extension, medical workers who have, over the months, been battling the virus with commitment and compassion nearly everywhere.

REVIEW

76 Days

★★★

Directed by: Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous

Written and edited by: Hao Wu

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

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